At his baptism, God confirms that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, who will rule on David’s throne forever. We also see what kind of king Jesus is: humble and willing to serve.
Matthew finally introduces us to Jesus. Up to now, we’ve been told a lot about Jesus. We’ve been told about his miraculous birth and how God protected him as an infant and child. We’ve seen John the Baptist announce his coming, but in Matthew’s telling, this is the first time we see the man himself.
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:13-17
- Jesus travels from Galilee to the Jordan for the purpose of being baptized by John. Jesus does not find John before a huge crowd in a big auditorium and announce “Here I am.”
- Matthew is the only one who tells us John objected to baptizing Jesus at first.
- For everyone else, baptism represented confessing their sins and turning and back to God. Jesus didn’t need to do that.
- Accepting John’s baptism demonstrates that Jesus accepts John’s authority as a prophet and the truth of his message.
29The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:29-34
- God gave John the Baptist specific testimony as to how he would recognize the Messiah. John saw it happen when he baptized Jesus.
- John does not proclaim the identify of the Messiah before the baptism, though he probably suspected (Luke 1:29-45).
- As a prophet of God, John would not claim Jesus was the Messiah on his own authority. He waited until God confirmed it with the sign.
- By submitting to John’s baptism, the sign is fulfilled and Jesus is confirmed as the Messiah.
- This striking act of humility is Jesus’ first official act.
Son of God
What would the phrase “Son of God” have meant to the Jews of Jesus’ day? It referred to the Davidic king.
- God promised David that He will establish David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
- God says, He will be a father to the Davidic king and the king will be a son to Him (2Samuel 7:14).
- In this culture, the oldest son ruled with the same authority as the father.
- The king, as the Son of God, is the one whose rule is supposed to represent the Father, as a son represented his father.
- Psalm 89 restates the Davidic covenant, describing the relationship between the God and the king of Israel as a father-son relationship (Psalm 89:26-27).
- Psalm 89:27 equates being God’s “firstborn” with the “highest of the kings of earth”.
- Psalm 82:5-7 reminds the Davidic kings who rule unjustly that they are “sons of the Most High”.
- In the New Testament, we see many devout Jews — who had no concept of the Trinity — addressing Jesus as “Son of God”, and putting that phrase in parallel with “Christ” (e.g. John 1:49; Matthew 16:16; John 11:27; Matthew 26:63; Matthew 27:40).
- An Israelite of the time would understand the phrase “Son of God” to mean the king of Israel.
By doing accepting John’s baptism, Jesus is endorsing John’s ministry as a true prophet of God. But even more, Jesus is demonstrating how he thinks about his own authority: as a servant of God.